Sunday, September 4, 2011

Star Trek Archives 4 The Best Of Deep Space Nine Is Just “The First” DS9!

The Good: Includes limited edition comic, “Voice” isn't bad
The Bad: Stories are generally lame, predictable and involve no character development, Artwork.
The Basics: Despite a generally decent story (“Old Wounds”), the fourth “Star Trek” Archives comic book anthology, The Best Of DS9 is anything but!

Right now, I am finishing off my backlog of trade paperback anthology (more frequently and inaccurately called “graphic novels”) reviews. Trade paperback anthologies tend to take previously-published comic books and reprint them with a nice binding, usually a cover gallery, and without the pesky advertisements that pop up through the original comic books. This is a nice way to go and several of the most successful ones do work well as actual novels. Unfortunately for fans of the Star Trek comic books, this has not been successfully done. Instead, the collections – of late put forth by IDW – are just weird anthologies of the comic books that were published in the 1980s and 1990s which they, apparently, were able to reprint on the cheap. To wit, the latest anthology I've managed to get my hands on, Star Trek Archives Volume 4 The Best Of Deep Space Nine.

The Best Of Deep Space Nine is a bit of a misnomer. When Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (reviewed here!) first aired, it did not take long before Malibu Comics snatched up the license. It was a coup for the little comic book publisher and considering that DC had the license for the rest of the franchise as the time, it was quite a surprise to readers. The new anthology Star Trek Archives Volume 4 The Best Of Deep Space Nine is a rather depressing collection in that it does not embody the best of what Malibu produced, merely the earliest it produced. Yes, this is simply the first five issues of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine comics reprinted alongside the limited edition “ashcan” comic that was available only through an exclusive mail-in offer (and given how it was promised to be a limited edition collectible, those who fell for that years ago deserve to feel cheesed off at IDW for making their little investment worthless overnight!). As a result, Archives 4 is just a reprinting of the Malibu DS9 comics: "Stowaway," "Stowaway, Part II," "Old Wounds," "Emancipation, Part I," "Emancipation, Part II," and the eight-page "Hostage Situation." There were no changes to the story or artwork in this reprinting.

In "Stowaway," Jake and Nog are playing in the bowels of Deep Space Nine when they release a toxic mold. The mold begins to grow geometrically, smothering people and consuming the air on the space station. Sisko comes to believe that some artifacts brought back from the Gamma Quadrant may be to blame and he tries to get a visiting StarFleet science vessel to give him access to a reclusive scientist who uncovered artifacts in the Gamma Quadrant. The mold spreads and Dax and Bashir are at a loss of how to stop it.

In "Stowaway, Part II," Deep Space Nine finds itself surrounded by Cardassian warships with Gul Dukat offering to help Sisko eliminate the mold. Hesitant to get help from the Cardassians, Sisko denies Dukat access to the mold and sets Bashir and O'Brien to slowing the progress of the mold. While Dax goes to the Armstrong to try to find Doctor Wembeley and learn why he is so reticent to help with the problems on Deep Space Nine, the mold disaster gets worse and the station is taken to the verge of destruction!

In "Old Wounds," a Cardassian General comes to Deep Space Nine to die. General Trenar's arrival sparks anger among the staff of the station, most notably Kira and Odo who have personal histories with Trenar. The command crew is surprised when Trenar's wife turns out to be a Bajoran and an associate of Kira's. When Trenar is killed in his holosuite, accusations fly and Odo must determine the killer and exonerate himself for the murder!

In "Emancipation," Dax and Bashir discover a giant ship in the Gamma Quadrant which is decades behind Federation technology. After Bashir saves the life of the ship's captain, they bring the ship through the wormhole to Deep Space Nine. There, Bashir quickly realizes that the aliens are slaves, but Sisko is hesitant to grant asylum because of the Prime Directive. When the alien slaveowners come through the wormhole, the dilemma gets deeper and it becomes clear some of the slaves want to return home. But when Dax manages to discover that the home planet of the aliens is in the Alpha Quadrant, a rebel slave sets off a bomb and Deep Space Nine is thrown into chaos.

In "Emancipation, Part II," O'Brien and Dax work to quickly thwart the ex-slave leader from collapsing the wormhole. In the aftermath, the alien slaver works to gain Sisko's trust and the station is rocked by an assassination attempt that almost kills the slaver captain. As public sympathy for the slaves wanes, the slaver captain emancipates the slaves to prevent further violence and bloodshed.

In the short “Hostage Situation,” a Klingon vessel docks at Deep Space Nine and a Klingon brought to Sickbay takes Bashir hostage. Odo moves to diffuse the situation and in the process, Sisko learns of the machinations motivating the Klingons and their strange behavior aboard the station.

The early Malibu comics that are anthologized here suffer greatly from a lack of understanding both of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the overall narrative of that Star Trek work. While the other Star Trek series’ were episodic, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was largely serialized, which is why it has been so effectively continued in novel form now that it is off the air. Without knowing what the overall narrative is, it becomes difficult to write episodic pieces and these comic book stories seem, largely, like comics, as opposed to a storytelling extension of the television series.

That said, the writers in this anthology generally get the voices of the characters right. The banter between Dax and Bashir which opens “Emancipation” reads as rather realistic for the characters. Similarly, Sisko's quiet moodiness is well-portrayed even in the comic book form here. Some of the reactions, most notably Kira, Odo and O'Brien's in “Old Wounds” are a little over-the-top, but generally, the writing – while plot-heavy – gets the character voices right (save in “Hostage Situation,” which is homogeneously bad).

The main problems with The Best Of Deep Space Nine come in the lack of character development and the artwork. The character development is entirely absent in these plot-heavy works and some of the character directions, most notably those of Sisko in the “Emancipation” stories, are sometimes baffling. The characters generally show up, face an obstacle and there is no real tension between them or growth as a result of the stories. Even Jake and Nog, who feel culpable in the “Stowaway” storyline seem especially dense and unlike their television alter-egos. Indeed, the play that starts the crisis in that story seem ridiculously below the age appropriate level of the characters. But the failure of any of the characters to develop, even to have character conflicts unique to the comic book stories, is disappointing.

As for the artwork, here is where even the reprinted versions of these old comic books cannot save them. Malibu operated in the early 1990s, so the coloring was done mostly using computers and generally was consistent. Unfortunately, the coloring lacks shading depth or realism, so Sisko's skin tones, for example, are rather monotonal brown while others are similarly pale with little depth. As well, some of the artwork is just penciled poorly and looks astonishingly bad. For example, in one of the early stories, Nog is grabbed by Quark and in one panel, Quark looks like Rom, not himself! Even worse, there is a sloppy conceit on many of the panels where the legs are accented over the body and head, so characters look like weird pyramid versions of themselves. This is also true of aliens, like those in “Emancipation.”

Oddly, though, starships and Deep Space Nine's exteriors seem to be well-drawn, though the drawings of things like the Cardassian ships and Deep Space Nine suffer some from the lack of shading realism. Given how few shots there are in these books of starships and special phenomenon, the bulk of the book is poorly illustrated to a distracting extent. The stories may be mediocre, but the art is just abysmal.

Like the other “Archives” collections from IDW, The Best Of Deep Space Nine includes a cover gallery of the five comic books and that is nice for collectors. In general, though, the stories in this anthology do not support bothering to buy this book. These are not the best comic book stories of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and fans would do better to read them once at a library than to bother with buying this and making it a permanent addition to their collection.

For other Star Trek Archives collections, please check out my reviews of:
Volume 1 - The Best Of Peter David
Volume 2 - The Best Of The Borg
Volume 3 - The Best Of Gary Seven


For other book reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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